Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Plains, Luzerne County
Hall of Fame pitcher Ed Walsh holds the career record for ERA, 1.82.
Awards: Baseball Hall of Fame
Edward Augustine Walsh was born in Plains, Pennsylvania on May 14, 1881. After several years as a mull-team driver, Walsh made his way into professional baseball. Most known for his record-setting pitching, he mastered the infamous spit-ball pitch. After 11 years with the Chicago White Sox and a year with the Boston Braves, Walsh turned to coaching. He left baseball for good in 1930. In 1957, he moved from Meriden, Connecticut to Pompano Beach, Florida because of chronic arthritis. Walsh passed away in Pompano Beach on May 26, 1959.
Edward Augustine Walsh, otherwise known as Big Ed, was born on May 14, 1881, in Plains, Pennsylvania. The youngest of 13 children, he was born to an Irish immigrant family. His father, Michael, was a coal miner and his mother, Mary, was a homemaker. Walsh's education did not extend very far. He completed five years of parochial schooling before making his way into the coal industry. At age 12, young Edward was already a mule-team driver in the coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania. This line of work undoubtedly helped him grow into the frame that led to his nickname, Big Ed. Several years after starting at the coal fields, Walsh had developed into quite the giant standing 6'11" and 193lbs. His size and love of baseball allowed him to blow away opponents while playing semiprofessional baseball. In 1902, a friend had dared Edward to try out for the Wilkes-Barre team of the Pennsylvania State League. This dare would ultimately change Walsh's life forever. His try out performance landed him a contract.
It was not long before Ed Walsh began to gain some attention towards his pitching. The season following his first contract, he was scouted by the Boston Red Sox. They moved him up to Meriden, Connecticut in order to play on their club team. Shortly thereafter, Walsh was moved to the Eastern League's Newark Bears. While this would all come after he met his future wife while still in Meriden. A ballpark ice cream vendor named Rosemary Carney would be enticed by Ed's charm. They married in 1904 and had two sons. Although things were going well for Walsh, his success would be slowed down briefly. Walsh's pitching skills, albeit good, were underestimated by scouting reports. It was said that he was a kid that was limited to a good fastball. Lucky for Walsh, Chicago White Sox owner, Charles Comiskey, did not listen to these reports. Instead, he decided to sign Walsh for the small price of $750. A few months later, he earned himself a spot on the White Sox pitching staff. It would be in Chicago where Big Ed's talent would really shine.
Although he was only used as needed during his first two seasons, his fast ball revealed professional quality. However, he needed to improve his pitching by incorporating other effective pitches. This was not an easy task for Walsh, as he was often labeled as cocky. According to baseball historians John Holway and Bob Carroll, Big Ed "could strut while sitting down." It would take an insightful decision by the White Sox manager, Fielder Jones, to fix this problem. Walsh was forced to room with fellow pitcher, Elmer Stricklett. With the help of his new mentor, he was able to develop a more effective pitching strategy with the help of the "spitter." A spitter is a baseball that is typically thrown with saliva or petroleum jelly in order to alter its path. Batters are almost forced to guess when to swing, making it an effective pitch. However, since then the pitch had been banned league-wide. Ed Walsh was ultimately one of the pitchers that made this famous. Baseball legend and Hall of Famer Sam Crawford had this to say about Walsh:
He threw a spitball. I think that ball disintegrated on the way to the plate and the catcher put it back together again. I swear, when it went past the plate it was just the spit went by.
As for Walsh, he found it to be a much easier pitch since it required less effort.
In 1906, Ed Walsh's baseball career began to really take off. He started in 31 games with an impressive 17-13 record. It was in this year that Walsh would begin to set records. He set the record that year for most shutouts, totaling 10. This record would be broken two years later, again by Walsh. That same year, "Big Ed" marched the White Sox into the World Series. Although they would lose the Series, 1906 would mark the first of seven amazing seasons for Walsh. Of these seven years, 1908 is most notably the greatest year for Walsh. He would start 49 games, pitch 11 shutouts, and have an ERA of 1.42. After 1909, Ed Walsh would not pitch as much as he previously had.
Over the next few years, his arm would start to feel the wear and tear that pitching had caused. On December 31, 1916, after requesting a one-year break, he was released on the White Sox. His arm had sustained all it could. A year later, in 1917, Walsh had a brief stint with the Boston Braves. 18 innings later he was off the team. Ed Walsh managed to pitch a bit more in 1920 with the Eastern League, although that was short lived. He tried his luck with umpiring for the American League, but moved on shortly thereafter. With baseball still alive in his blood, Walsh would join the Chicago White Sox, this time as a coach. He left Chicago to coach Notre Dame University's baseball team in 1926. Not surprisingly, both of his sons were starting pitchers on the team. At the end of the decade in 1930, Ed Walsh had completely removed himself from baseball.
Although Big Ed Walsh had a relatively short career, he managed to make quite a name for himself. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1946. To this day, he still holds the record for his career ERA of 1.82. Additionally, his record of forty wins in a single season has yet to be surpassed. His records may eventually be toppled; however, he will always be revered as a pioneer of the spitball.
Walsh would remain in Meriden, Connecticut until 1957. The chronic arthritis in his right arm from which he suffered had eventually forced him to move south. Sadly, on May 26, 1959, Ed Walsh passed away in Pompano Beach, Florida. He is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Gardens in Pompano Beach.
Marc, D. "Walsh, Ed(ward) Augustine." Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: Sports Figures Vol. 2. Eds. Kenneth T. Jackson and Arnie Markoe. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2002. 474-476.